Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with Colombian cuisine

If Colombia isn’t in the plan this month, guess what? You can visit a local restaurant in your area or make a traditional Colombian recipe at home to celebrate National Latinx Heritage Month with some delicious authentic Colombian food. There is so much to explore and love about this diverse South American cuisine.

Much like its culture and people, Colombian cuisine combines indigenous, Spanish, and West African influences and flavors. Colombia’s cuisine is as diverse as its people and land. As one of the most geographically and biologically diverse countries, you will encounter an array of different staple crops and foods as you travel across the country.

From hearty, potato-rich stews in the mountains to fresh fish and rice in the coastal regions, plates abound in color, flavor and history.

Typical Colombian food

Colombia has warm, temperate and cold climates and its staple foods and dishes reflect them accordingly. Common foods include various tropical fruits, rice, corn, cassava (yuca), potatoes, plantains, avocados, coconuts, beef, and cheese. Colombia is well known for its coffee and is a top producer of cocoa, sugarcane and bananas.

White rice is a staple food throughout the country. And in the cooler highlands, you’ll find plenty of warm soups and stews made with root vegetables like potatoes, while fish and seafood with bananas and coconut rice are common along the coast.

To try popular Colombian dishes

Each region of Colombia has its own traditional cuisine, but here are a few popular dishes across the country.

Colombian arepas are cornmeal cakes that are usually grilled but can also be fried or baked in the oven. Arepas can be served as a side dish or topped or stuffed with a sauce, cheese, meat and other fillings for a complete meal. There are more than 40 different types of Colombian arepas—from the arepa paisa to the arepa santanderiana—made with cassava and pork slices. They are prepared in many different ways and you will find variations depending on its departmento (similar to state) of origin. Some, like the Arepa boyacense from the Boyacá region, are made with a sweet corn batter and filled with cheese. Another example, like the arepa de huevo, a fried corn cake with an egg inside, is popular in the Caribbean.

Tamales are also popular in Colombia. Lorena Drago, RDN, CDCES, and owner of Hispanic Foodway, shares that “Colombians eat tamales on weekends, Christmas, and special occasions.” He said each region prepares tamales differently. “Masa can be prepared with corn or rice. Fillings can range from vegetables, eggs, peanuts, and beef to pork.” For example, tamal antioquino from the Colombian state of Antioquia is made with corn flour and peas, carrots, diced potatoes, olives, chicken, and pork.

But Colombia is not about eating with your hands. Often called Colombia’s national dish, bandeja paisa is a traditional dish from Antioquia (home of Medellin and Guatapé). Drago explained that the dish, which translates to “penny platter,” got its name from people born in Antioch, called paisa.

While you’ll likely see some ingredient swaps from region to region, Drago explains that “bandeja paisa consists of white rice, red beans, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and pork, beef, corn arepas, fried eggs, sweet plantains, and a slice of avocado.” ” This dish was born out of necessity. Drago describes how “in the mid-1900s, Antiochian mules and men from the kingdom of Caldas worked all day in the fields and brought in bandeja paisa to sustain them during long toils.”

There are too many dishes to name, but other popular Colombian dishes to taste include ajiaco (a chicken and potato stew soup), sancocho (a soup made with corn, potatoes, plantains and/or yuca, and chicken, pork, beef meat), or fish), sudado de pollo (chicken stew), and pescado frito (a whole fried fish from coastal Colombia usually served with rice).

Sweet and nutritious Colombian fruit

Thanks to the country’s biodiversity, Colombia is blessed with some of the best fruit in the world. So if you’re not ready to try your hand at arepas or Colombian stew, you can still taste delicious, nutrient-dense Colombian fruit.

Drago Plate suggests starting with soursop, guanabana, loquat, lulo, guava, passion fruit, tamarind, dragon fruit, or other common fruits to sweeten and refresh the palate.

Fresh fruits such as fiber-rich dragon fruit (pitahaya) may be fairly easy to find in major supermarkets, but others may require a little more searching. If you’re near an international farmers market, a Latinx market, or a specialty store, check out fresh guava, passion fruit, or tamarillo (a red or orange, tomato-like egg-shaped fruit). Ask a store produce manager if fresh options are available (even if for a short time each year). Also, check the frozen food aisle for frozen fruit purees and the grocery aisle for canned or dried options.

Tropical fruits can be eaten fresh as a snack, with a meal, or whipped into fresh juice. Some fruits, such as passion fruit, are often available in juice form or can be made into ice cream or custard. The antioxidant-rich lulo is popular throughout Colombia, and its frozen pulp is widely available in many parts of the world. Use it to make lulada, a Colombian drink made with melted lulo fruit, lime juice, water and sugar.

Another way many Colombians enjoy the fruit (especially in the Andean region) is the aroma. Making this fresh fruit infusion at home is easy. Simply steep freshly cut pineapple, guava or other fruit in hot, boiling water until it infuses with the fruit’s flavor. You can add fresh mint and honey or sugar to taste. When it’s ready, sip and taste like tea.

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